WriteCast Episode 23: How Academic Writing Helps You Beyond Academia
© Walden University Writing Center 2015
BETH: Welcome to WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. I’m Beth Nastachowski.
BRITTANY: And I’m Brittany Kallman Arneson. Today, we’re going to be talking about using the skills that you build in academic writing beyond the academic paper, beyond the work that you do as a scholar.
BETH: This discussion sort of builds off of the discussion that we were having last month about APA and we started talking about the larger implications of APA and why learning APA in general is helpful in your education in general—not just for learning APA rules but also for understanding how to cite sources in general and being able to show that you can follow citation style. That, in and of itself, is a useful skill to learn. And, today, we are going to be talking a little bit more about how writing in general can help you in all of your academics. But also, beyond a little bit, and it sort of relates to the purpose of why you’re at Walden and why we pursue higher education.
BRITTANY: Right, so, we run into this question a fair amount from students and it’s a worthwhile question to ask: Why am I doing so much writing when I’m pursuing a degree that’s really practical in nature? Right? That’s something that’s preparing me for a specific career, that maybe isn’t a writing intensive career. And the students that ask these questions have a really good point, because they’re really wondering how the skills that they are building in a writing intensive program like those at Walden are going to translate into the career that they’re—the degree that they’re pursuing is preparing them for.
BETH: Yeah, I think that sometimes students come to Walden and they don’t realize that it is a writing intensive program. Because we’re online, all the ways that you communicate with us, for the most part, are through writing. So, you communicate with your faculty, with your classmates, and with other support services, like the Writing Center, through writing. So, writing really becomes very important. For a lot of our students, their professions are not writing intensive, and they don’t realize that Walden is a writing intensive program. So, if you feel like you’re struggling and you’re not sure why, it might be because you’re not used to all the writing that you’re doing at Walden. And Walden definitely expects a lot of writing from its students, so it’s an important thing to keep in mind.
BRITTANY: Right. So you’re communicating with Writing Center faculty, all these people through writing, but you’re also, of course, writing academic papers, discussion posts, application papers. You know, most of the things that you’re being assessed on in your degree are pieces of writing. And what we want to talk about today is how the skills that you’re building when you’re writing those documents or those smaller posts are useful to you both because writing is a useful skill to build outside of an academic environment, but also because when you learn to write, you learn to do other things, as well. You learn how to think. You learn how to be smart about the way that you talk about sensitive issues.
BETH: Right. So, audience, that’s something we talk about a lot.
BRITTANY: Yes, yes.
BETH: And something we all have to consider in all of our jobs.
BRITTANY: Mmm, hmm, absolutely. So, you learn a lot about tone, and about--You learn a lot about critical thinking, I think, through the writing process. So that’s something that we want to expand on a little bit today.
BETH: So, we’re kind of talking about these big, broad, big picture ideas here. But in a very practical sense, the writing that you do at Walden does a couple of things that will help you in your chosen field. So, one of those is to help you to learn to follow directions and instructions, and maybe not even just learning to follow them, but learning to interpret instructions and directions. It can be really useful. So when you approach a writing assignment and you see a writing prompt, part of what you’re doing there is not just responding to that prompt, you’re not just demonstrating that skill, but you’re also demonstrating that you can go through instructions of the writing prompt, identify what’s important, and what you need to do in response to that. That’s a very useful skill that you can use in a very practical sense.
BRITTANY: Right. I think that it’s really helpful for students to realize, too, that you are really interpreting those instructions, and you may need to, you know, go back to your instructor and ask questions. And that’s also a really useful skill to build, to not sort of take something at face value, and not make assumptions about the meaning of something. But if you have a question, go back and ask, you know, “What does this word mean in this context?” Or if you, if you are confused about the way that you’re supposed to be approaching an assignment, that doesn’t reflect poorly on you, that just means that you have to dig a little bit deeper and you are building that skill of interpreting language and, sort of, gleaning meaning from someone else’s writing which, in turn, can make you a better thinker and writer.
BETH: And in a really practical sense, right, we all have to do those sorts of things in our jobs. We get instructions from our bosses, or from our coworkers that we have to, sort of, sift through and interpret. I was even thinking of something that you and I have talked about, Brittany, is grant writing. And a lot of students are really interested in different applications. And then there’s a lot of different kinds of applications you can do. But we all have to do applications in some sense, whether it’s grants that you’re writing for, or you’re applying for a program, or you are filling out something for work. Those are all, sort of, directions that you have to quickly engage with, and it’s really important to develop those skills. So, the skills in understanding writing prompts should apply and transfer to those other, other contexts as well.
BRITTANY: Right, absolutely. One other skill that you are building as you are doing academic writing is the skill of writing concisely. This is something that, we, I feel like, talk about all the time at the writing center. It’s really important. It’s so easy to be long-winded in our writing and in our speaking.
BETH: Well and writing concisely also relates to being clear and direct, as well. I think that’s partly implied when we say “writing concisely”. Because you don’t want to be concise just for the sake of being concise, because if you’re too concise and lose meaning--
BETH: --then that’s not useful. It’s balancing directness, concision, and clarity, really, all three together. And finding that balance is really important in academic writing, the writing you do at Walden, but it’s important in all of the other contexts you have, as well. I know that sometimes, when I’m even writing an email to a colleague, I’ll start writing it out, and I realize, I look back and say “Wow, I was being really wordy. I was trying to figure out what I was saying.” And it’s really useful to use the skills that I have in academic writing to go back to that email and cut out all the extra information, really get right to the point, because it’s really important that my colleague pay attention to what I’m saying. I want them to know what I’m saying and to understand it. So, it’s important to take those skills and use it in that other context.
BRITTANY: Yes, I totally agree, and I think one thing that is probably true for most people is, I know that it’s true for me, is when we speak it’s easier to kind of let our thoughts flow, right? And I think that’s sort of what we do in the prewriting stage, or the free writing early stages of expressing our ideas, like you said, when you’re drafting an email or drafting a discussion post or paper. We don’t necessarily know what we think about something before we start writing about it. And the writing itself can work as a tool to hone our ideas, to understand our ideas, and it may take a few paragraphs before we get to the heart of what it is that we want to say. And so, I think that’s a hugely important skill to build through writing and something that you can continue to take outside of academic writing to is just using writing. Even if you’re just, like, writing in your journal about something to try and figure out what it is that you really think about something and then finally when you get to that heart of the issue, all of those initial thought are just housed on paper. So you haven’t already put them out into the world and then you can really hone and craft the idea that you want to put forward and send in an email or put in a discussion post or put in a grant application or whatever it is that you’re writing, whatever practical application that you have.
BETH: Yeah, and the other thing I was thinking—just because you were talking about a lot of different contexts, right?—that we’re writing, and I think when we’re talking to our colleague, we’re talking in a little bit different way than we would be talking to our friend, and then a family member. I know sometimes my mom will say, “Oh, I know you’ve been talking to your sister because you’re talking a little bit of a different way.” And that’s very true—when we’re talking to different people, we adjust the way that we communicate for that particular audience. That’s another thing that we really practice in academic writing, is adjusting our tone, the way we argue something, what kind of evidence we produce, those sorts of things for our audience. And so, practicing writing for an audience is also really important because you do that in all of your different, all of the different contexts of your life, really, even within your job, you might be able to think about and identify a couple of different contexts or audiences that you have to communicate with and the different ways that you communicate with them. So, you’re practicing a skill that you can then translate there and better differentiate your communication styles depending on your audiences.
BRITTANY: Right. I think that’s so true. And I think that also, that’s something that, like you said, we do so naturally in our lives anyway. But to be able to develop a consciousness of that, and to be able to do it intentionally is a hugely important skill, to sort of remember, “Okay, who am I writing for?”, “Who’s my audience?”, “What’s the purpose of this piece of writing?” rather than just jumping in and going for it and then afterwards thinking “Oh, gosh, I could have probably have made that communication stronger if I would have considered those things.” So, not just building that skill, but building an awareness of the importance of that skill, I guess, is something that, I think is happening through academic writing.
BETH: Yeah, I think academic writing and higher education really asks you to be very reflective and asks you to think about what you’re doing. And I think that’s one overarching, sort of, take-away from higher education that could be applied to all of the rest of your life, right? So, one of the things we had also been talking about was higher education and writing—the writing we do at Walden helps you develop argument. That’s one of the big things that we do, right? Because most of our writing is argument driven or thesis driven. And so, the skills that you develop in building an argument, using evidence, sifting through evidence, and finding which evidence is the most appropriate to include, all of those are things you can use in all the rest of your life. And it’s really about being more reflective about the skills you already have, developing those skills more, and being able to take them into the workplace or wherever you want to apply what you’re learning at Walden.
BRITTANY: We’ve touched on this a little bit, but it’s important to reiterate that all these skills that we’re talking about are skills that employers are looking for that are going to be valuable in any workplace. And regardless of what field you’re working in, communication is key, right? It’s really important that you’re able to communicate your ideas clearly to somebody else, and all of these skills that we’re talking about that you’re building through academic writing, again, are applicable to communication in general.
BETH: Yeah, so we really encourage you to think about the writing that you do at Walden not just as a means to an end, not just “I have to finish this discussion post. I have to get 3 paragraphs, 500 words, whatever, however many pages done” and sort of think about the writing that you do in a broader sense and related to your education as a whole, but also related to the things you’re passionate about and want to accomplish outside of Walden. I think that’s something that we always are talking about is so amazing about Walden students is their commitment to positive social change and affecting their community and making a change really in the word. And I think that’s so fantastic, and the writing you do at Walden will really help you do those things outside of Walden. If you have something that you’re passionate about, that you want to do in your community, you’re going to need these communication skills, these critical thinking skills, these skills of being able to be concise, to know audience, to develop arguments, all of those will help you be more effective in creating that change in your community and achieving those goals. So it shouldn’t be just a means to an end, but it can be a means to something much greater than that as well.
BRITTANY: Yeah, and I think that’s such a nice transition into talking about even ways outside of the workplace that the skills that we’re building in academic writing are going to be useful. Because, Walden does have this social change component, right? And I’m always so impressed by Walden students and their commitment to a cause. They continually wow me with their ability to be passionate about about an issue in their community, and something that we deal with all the time in the Writing Center, and we really emphasize, is the importance of being able to separate out your passion and emotion from your well-thought-out argument and your argument that’s based in evidence. And I think that is something that is really applicable beyond academic writing because we do a lot of communicating about social issues in our world right now, right? And we maybe write letters to the editor. We express ourselves all the time on social media, right? We’re talking about the issues that matter to us on Facebook, or on Twitter. And we all have seen that editorial or that post on Facebook where we say, “Oh, I can tell that that person got a little carried away with their emotions and they maybe lost track of the logic of their argument.” And, when I see a post like that, I feel a little bit less inclined to engage with that person’s ideas because I don’t trust that they fully thought through the concept that they’re talking about, or maybe considered all the sides. And so, to be able to go through and logically think through a problem, and express an idea about that problem clearly through writing, is a hugely important skill just in our daily lives as we engage with the world around us.
BETH: And to build off that, Brittany, I think one of the things that is the goal of Walden and, certainly, in higher education is to allow their students to become successful and engaged members of their community. That’s really what higher education is about, is to facilitate students’ abilities to develop arguments and communicate with others and to really go out into the world and then use those skills to enact some sort of change that they want to see. That becomes really important when you think about writing, because we often say writing is thinking. There’s no way around it. When you write, you think. And it involves really difficult critical thinking skills to write. And that’s the great thing about writing, but also why it can be so difficult. So, I think that it’s important to remember that all the writing that you do is developing those critical thinking skills and then will translate into helping you have those skills to be an engaged member of your community.
BETH: For this episode’s listener’s corner, we have a couple of shout outs. And we want to say first off, thank you so much for giving us your feedback. If we mispronounce your name, we apologize and we welcome you to send us a correction of the phonetic spelling of your name, but we wanted to make sure to acknowledge your comments and feedback. First, thank you to Pamela who wrote to us with some questions and said, “Thank you. Your dialogue was great concerning APA.” So, thank you, Pamela, we appreciate that feedback.
BRITTANY: We really do. We also want to thank Deidrea, who has been sharing our episodes with her own Facebook friends. We’re so grateful that you are using our episodes beyond the Walden community. So thanks a lot!
BETH: From Niares, a Walden alum and in the Walden community, she says that she listened to the Writecast episode 21: “This was excellent. I definitely could have used this when I first began my doctoral journey.” So, thank you so much. It’s great to hear. I’m glad it’s a useful episode for you. And if you haven’t listened to episode 21, make sure to check it out!
BRITTANY: If you liked this episode, or have any questions or comments about what we’ve talked about today, we’d love to hear from you. You can comment on our blog or Facebook page, or Tweet us @WUWritingCenter. Or you can take our quick, anonymous, social media survey, which you can find linked from all of our social media accounts.
BETH: Thanks for listening everyone! We’ll talk to you again next month.
BRITTANY: WriteCast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center. This episode was produced by me, Brittany Kallman Arneson; my co-host, Beth Nastachowski; and our colleague, Anne Shiell.